Bonney Lake softball coach Andrew Sage describes Brooke Nelson’s career as “ungodly,” and he can easily provide the statistical evidence to back up his words.
There’s the 0.92 career ERA, the state-record 1,194 strikeouts, the .645 batting average. She was the Gatorade Player of the Year in 2018, which was the same season the Panthers won the state championship.
There’s not much Nelson hasn’t accomplished at the high school level. But when Sage thinks about Bonney Lake taking the field without her next season, it’s her voice he will miss the most.
Even when Nelson wasn’t in the pitcher’s circle, you could always hear her talking to her teammates from left field. And in pressure-filled moments, Nelson was the first person to gather her teammates together and calm them.
“I say this all the time about her, the biggest loss we’re going to have with her is her leadership and her drive,” Sage said. “Her leadership and the example that she set is hopefully going to ripple another couple years to the girls that are still in the program.”
Nelson — The News Tribune’s All-Area softball player of the year for the second consecutive season — finished her senior season with a 0.94 ERA and a batting average of .632.
Her list of accomplishments is extensive. You could sit for hours, Sage said, and talk all about the things she’s done. But when asked to reflect on her high school career, Nelson only talked about growth — and not just her own.
“I think about just how far we’ve come as individuals on and off the field,” she said. “I think that’s the coolest part for me, just looking back on all the memories and the people we’ve gotten to play with that are past and present.”
Some of those players were her fellow seniors. They finished their careers with an eye-popping 89-18 record, including a postseason mark of 20-8. Their collective batting average was .411.
Another was Brynn Nelson, her younger sister and the Panthers’ second basemen, who said Brooke has always been quick to deflect praise to others. Her leadership, Brynn said, set the tone for Bonney Lake.
“She shows how much she cares without it seeming like she’s trying to tell you what to do,” Brynn said. “It’s very hard to do and the way she’s always so helpful and always so encouraging.
“Even as her sister, being able to always come to her whenever I needed help with something or if I was struggling with something, she was always there no matter what. That’s just being a leader and being able to lead a team. She’s there for you on and off the field.”
Sage called Nelson an energetic and fiery competitor. Still, even with everything she achieved, she also remained humble and hard-working throughout her career. There was a quiet confidence about her, a quality Sage and Nelson often discussed heading into her senior season.
“The relationship between coach and pitcher, especially when the coach calls the pitches, it’s a pretty significant thing,” Sage said. “The way she’s matured and learned to communicate and during games, it’s been really, really fun. It’s been really special.
“She’s a hard worker. If there’s anything she lacks physically, she makes up for it in her work ethic. There’s not anyone that works harder.”
And most importantly, Brynn said, Brooke never forgot to enjoy the game.
“I think one of the biggest things that I’ve learned is balancing how to balance having fun and working hard every single day,” Brynn said. “She’s always enjoyed every moment but she knows when it’s time be serious, when this is an important moment.”
With her high school career behind her, Nelson can now focus on her next step. She’ll attend the University of Washington, where she’ll join a Husky team that has made three-straight Women’s College World Series appearances and was the runner-up in 2018.
For Nelson, arriving on campus will be the realization of a dream. Her dad played football at UW and her family had season tickets since she was six months old. When they attended football games, Nelson’s eyes would wander to the nearby softball field. She used to tell herself she wanted to play on that field when she was older.
Now she’s just months away from that opportunity.
“Everyone in their senior year is just a mix of emotions because you know you’re leaving,” Nelson said. “Luckily for me, I can just stay in-state. For a lot of people, it’s leaving home, new experiences, moving on to new things.
“I think for me, going to the University of Washington, that had always been a goal for me from a very young age. I committed my sophomore year and for me, it’s finally here. It feels like I’ve been waiting forever kind of for this moment.”
Nelson never looked back on her decision to commit to the Huskies. While Sage said it’s always difficult to predict how players will perform at the next level, he’s excited to see her take on a bigger challenge.
“I think it’s going to be good for her to be in a situation where she’s got something to work toward more than just her own personal self-motivation,” Sage said, “that she’s going to have people that are just as good as her if not better.”
Back at Boney Lake, Sage won’t soon forget Nelson’s athletic accomplishments. What will linger more, though, is the culture the Class of 2019 instilled in the program. Even the freshman that played this season, Sage said, will carry those lessons and then eventually pass them on.
“It’s the way that you link your eras,” Sage said. “For her to set that kind of example when things are tough, for her to be the first one to say, ‘Hey, we got this. We’re all right,’ to lift us up. When things go well, she’s the first one to compliment everybody else.
“And I think that’s a great leader: They take responsibility when things don’t go right and they always distribute the praise when things go well. She’s learned that at an early age. She really has.”